Eye Emergencies in Cats and Dogs

Caring for your dog or cat with an eye injury or emergency

Sudden changes in your pet's eyes are a medical emergency. Emergencies include the following:

On the way to your veterinary clinic for any pet eye emergency, you should:

  • Keep your pet calm. Do not give anything to eat or drink because your pet may need an anesthetic.
  • Soothe your pet's eye by placing a COLD moist cloth or moist tea bag (black or green) over the eye to decrease swelling.
  • Offer T-Relief Tablets, a homeopathic medication to immediately control inflammation and help ease pain. T-Relief is a pill that dissolves in the mouth and will not interfere with any other medications your pet receives. It will not interfere with anesthetics—if they are necessary.
  • Lead or carry your pet. Don't assume your pet can see or navigate around curbs, up into the car, or over toys.
  • Take care that your pet does not snap or bite while you are moving him or her because of the pain and fright he or she may be experiencing.
Corneal ulcers

Corneal ulcers in dogs and cats can be caused by inflammation of the eyelids or by inflammation in the eye. The more quickly the ulcer develops, the more likely the problem is an emergency. Slowly developing redness is also serious, but may not be an absolute emergency. Among the causes your veterinarian will consider are inflammation of the:

  • Conjunctiva (conjunctivitis), the thin mucus covering over the entire front of the eye that also covers the inside of the eyelids;
  • Cornea (keratitis), the thin clear front of the eye that allows light to pass;
  • Eyelids (blepharitis);
  • White of the eye or sclera (episcleritis).

If your pet is fortunate, the inflammation will be something as simple as an allergy that causes conjunctivitis. Whatever causes the inflammation, your pet may benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3 fatty acids. We recommend Missing Link, Super Pure Omega 3, Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet (for dogs), and Brite Coat Chews for fatty acid supplementation. The homeopathic T-Relief Tablets also help control inflammation and will not interfere with other medications or diet restrictions your pet may have.

Pupils of different sizes (anisocoria)

If one pupil is a different size than the other, the first thing your veterinarian will do is determine whether one is abnormally large or whether one is abnormally small. Then, your veterinarian will run laboratory tests and measure the eyeball pressure. Your veterinarian will look for problems caused by infection, cancer, trauma, old age, inflammation, or drugs. This is a medical emergency if it happened suddenly.


The gradual onset of blindness is not an emergency unless you notice additional symptoms such as red, painful eyes, cloudy corneas, or swelling. Sudden blindness in dogs or cats, on the other hand, is an emergency. Among the conditions your veterinarian will consider as causes for sudden blindness are retinal detachment, brain tumor, trauma, poorly regulated diabetes, loss of blood flow to the brain, and high blood pressure. Cataracts can cause blindness, but they tend to develop slowly and cause a visible cloudiness of the lens.

Your veterinarian will run blood and urine tests, and may suggest an ocular ultrasound exam. CT and MRI exams help distinguish tumors, and a cerebral spinal tap will help distinguish infection.

Your blind dog or cat can get around efficiently if the furniture is not moved, and objects are not left in his or her way.


The cornea is the clear outer layer on the front of the eye, rather like the windshield on a car. The white part of the eye, the sclera, wraps around the back of the eye. The cornea and the sclera can both be damaged by grit, sharp objects, or a blow. The cornea has no blood vessels running through it, so if it is cut, damaged, or scratched it will not bleed. The sclera has blood vessels, and can bleed. If the cornea is damaged, blood vessels can grow in from the sclera and cover it.

If your pet's eye has been lacerated, the inner eye structures can also be damaged. Whether lacerations are limited to outer eye surfaces (sclera and cornea), or inner structures (iris, pupil, retina), your pet's eye may be very painful. This is an emergency and your pet will appreciate the pain relief your veterinarian provides, in addition to the treatment for the laceration. Immediate care helps limit further injury.

Eyeball prolapse (proptosis)

Small dogs with large eyes and flat faces (brachycephalic dogs) are most likely to have eyeballs prolapse or pop out. With small dogs, the problem is often that the eyelids get caught behind the globe. With large dogs with normal-sized eyeballs, prolapse can also occur, and when it does, it is usually more severe because the optic nerve is generally stretched to the point of blindness. Prolapse can be caused by trauma or by any extreme increase in pressure within the head. Prolapse can lead to blindness or crossed eyes if muscles are stretched beyond their ability to contract back into position. Cover your pet's eye with a moist, cool, clean cloth and take him or her to the veterinary clinic immediately.

Tearing (epiphora)

If tears suddenly begin spilling down your pet's face, there may be a foreign body in the eye that the tears will automatically flush out, or there may be a serious problem that requires veterinary care. For example, grass awns can get caught under eyelids where they act like foreign bodies causing pain and damaging the cornea. Tearing is also caused by grass awns, and other material, suddenly blocking the tear ducts so that tears which normally flow through the duct (nasolacrimal canal) and out the nose, now flow down your pet's cheeks. Corneal lacerations cause sudden tearing, perhaps because of the pain. Infections and cancers also cause tearing.

If your pet's eye becomes red, and the tearing continues more than a few minutes, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately. Unlike inflammation that occurs throughout most of the body, inflammation in the eyeball becomes instantly serious. There is no room for expansion in the eyeball, and inflammation can quickly progress to blindness.

Retinal hemorrhage

Retinal hemorrhage is defined as the abnormal bleeding of the blood vessels in the retina, the membrane in the back of the eye. Symptoms include inflammation, or a cloudy or red eye. The following problems can cause retinal hemorrhage:

  • Diabetes
  • Coagulation problems (rat poisons)
  • High blood pressure
  • Immune-mediated diseases
  • Fungal disease
  • Cancer
  • Trauma
Max's Tip

T-Relief Tablets should be given between feedings and can be mixed with water or placed in food for ease of administration.